ATRIAL FIBRILLATION AND COPD
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm). According to Wikipedia, it involves the two upper chambers of the heart (atria), that quiver (fibrillate) instead of producing a coordinated contraction. Terry, a COPD-Support member from Illinois, shares her story about recently being rushed to the hospital by ambulance when her heart rate reached 165. She was diagnosed with AF and told that it was common for people with COPD to have this condition. Shortly after her episode, she posted a message about her experience and asked if others had heard of a connection between AF and COPD. As a follow up to her post, a number of members quickly shared they too have AF. It turns out, what Terry was told appears to be true; people with COPD are at higher risk of AF.
The AF and COPD Connection
In a research article from 2003, published in the European Respiratory Journal, Danish researchers report that people with reduced lung function are twice as likely to develop AF than people with normal lung function. The researchers followed 13,400 people over a period of 13 years, and they explain that COPD is related to other cardiac conditions besides AF. Cor pulmonale and ischaemic (or ischemic) heart disease are two examples. Cor pulmonale, according to Wikipedia, is an enlargement of the right ventricle of the heart due to high blood pressure in the lungs, and ichaemic heart disease is a reduced supply of blood to the heart muscle. These conditions can lead to arrhythmia (AF is just one type of arrhythmia or abnormal heart beat). The investigators recommend that COPD patients be checked for AF annually. They say: “In conclusion, this study indicates that reduced forced expiratory volume in one second % predicted [often expressed as FEV1] is an independent predictor of new onset atrial fibrillation. Since atrial fibrillation, if untreated, causes high morbidity from stroke and is associated with increased mortality, this indicates the importance of routine electrocardiograms in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
Causes of Atrial Fibrillation
COPD is not the only risk factor in the development of AF. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), AF can also be triggered by thyroid dysfunction, heart disease or alcohol use. They explain that COPD causes changes in blood gases and other abnormalities in pulmonary function, and add that changes in the flow of blood resulting from pulmonary hypertension can also lead to the development of AF. Treatment, they maintain, has to be well coordinated, because treatment of either COPD or atrial fibrillation might complicate treatment of the other condition. The NIH abstract can be found at:
Diagnosis and Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation
MedicineNet has a comprehensive article on the diagnosis and treatment of AF. Although they point out there are sometimes no symptoms of AF, the most common symptom is palpitations. Other symptoms might include, but are not limited to: dizziness, fainting, weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath and chest pain. They list the many risk factors for developing AF (besides COPD), and also delve into the various ways in which AF can be diagnosed and treated. They address not only treating the underlying cause of the fibrillations, but also review medication to treat the symptoms and prevent further problems. Treatments can consist of medications to normalize heart rhythms, surgery (pacemakers and defibrillators), and medications such as blood thinners to decrease the risk of a stroke.
The MedicineNet article can be found at: